Tennessee’s 0-2 start is at once Jeremy Pruitt’s fault and isn’t Jeremy Pruitt’s fault. Tennessee should never lose to Georgia State, ever. No football team should surrender a 64-yard catch-and-run with 16 seconds left in the game and a 3-point lead, as the Vols did on Saturday, turning a 16-13 lead into a 29-26 double-overtime loss.
At the same time, Pruitt didn’t hire Butch Jones. Or Derek Dooley. Or Lane Kiffin.
Tennessee’s place in the college football hierarchy has been a decade-plus in the making. It’s also going to get worse before it gets better. Though the back half of the schedule is considerably less difficult than the front, the Vols are likely to be 2-5 or even 1-6 by the time it gets here.
Pruitt signed a 6-year contract — running Dec. 7, 2017 through Jan. 21, 2024; so, the 2018-23 football seasons — which pays him $3.8 million per year and $22.8 million in total. Interestingly, the contract includes no escalation schedule — he’ll make the same $3.8 million he made in 2018 again in 2023, plus standard bonuses.
There is perhaps no fan base more starved for success than Tennessee’s, and that passion has been the program’s Achilles heel of sorts. Pruitt became Tennessee’s fifth full-time head coach in a decade when he got the job. That level of turnover is bound to break any program, and at some point you realize the fastest way out of a hole is to stop digging.
In that sense, the Pruitt’s contract saves the program from itself. His buyout would require the school to pay 60 percent of the remainder with no offset. Should the school move on from him this winter, with $15 million still due to him on the total contract, it would cost more than $9 million.
Pruitt was hired to fix Tennessee football, once and for all, and his contract ensures he’ll get time to do just that.